ESPN NFL Football Review

Developer: Visual Concepts Publisher: Sega
Release Date: July 20, 2004 Also On: PS2 and Xbox

Last year when the ESPN license took over, people were expecting great things from the franchise. After playing it, I wasn’t impressed. The 2K football series left its best days back on the Sega Dreamcast. With a price drop, as well as many features in the new version of ESPN Football, even I was expecting a turn around, and I am a Madden fan, born and raised. The feud between Madden and ESPN is looking to heat up this year, although Madden has the edge with its national tournament. Did ESPN live up to all the hype surrounding it?

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Compared to last year, ESPN improved visually. There now are many more cutscenes that show Chris Berman in the Sportscenter studio, as well as scenes from the stands and sidelines. You will see coaches and player reactions which really add to the effect of the game. In-game however, there are some problems. Characters for the most part are tall and skinnier than they really should be. Stadium environments are highly detailed and the presentation of ESPN Sunday Night Football is an outstanding experience to be brought to your game console. There doesn’t seem to be many collision errors either which have been corrected from the previous release of ESPN. The people in the stands tend to repeat a lot however. This could have been fixed up a bit. Also, the cheerleaders are repeated always. A good thing to think about would be to add the real cheerleaders from the teams into ESPN next time.

The announcing on ESPN outdoes that of Madden because you don’t have to listen to John ramble on about nothing or Al’s annoying voice during play by play. Fans shout things out during the middle of a game, just as they would if you were really at an NFL event. This adds a distinct realism to the action on the field. I have been to an event such as this and trust me, they do sound like idiots in both virtual and real life. Unlike Madden, ESPN actually has different play calling when the Quarterback is set behind the Center. The basic ready, set, hut in Madden, doesn’t match up to the real call outs. At least I think they are the real call out, who really knows anyway. The in-game music is nothing compared to the Madden tracks, but all you really need is the Sportscenter theme for an ESPN game. You can also throw in your own music as clips to play in your home stadium. This is good, but not that great since you only get 15 seconds for the songs when other songs played in the stadium can go on for about 30 seconds at some points.

The playability of ESPN last year was sub par to that of Madden, and I still feel this slightly in the current release. With a revamped system engine, ESPN is out looking to change the minds of many players. Though it has improved, many Madden gamers would still prefer the feel of Madden over ESPN. The scrambling system has been changed so that a simple hold of the R trigger allows you to run out of the pocket and try and by some time. Play calling does get a little bit weird. You pick the formation you wish to use, then the DL setup, and then the DB and LB setup on defense. Offense has many different offsets for each formation. This does expand the playbook of ESPN teams to be larger than Madden, but it can make things difficult and hard to find the right play for a situation. This would be a good game to add ask coach’s for choosing your plays which is available. The special charge meter is good for a quick burst of speed, a shoulder charge, or a dive into the end zone on a goal line play.

Throwing the ball in ESPN has been improved and your receiver can now catch the ball for once, unlike in last year’s game. The running game has been fixed so that it isn’t so dominant any more. Now running for 300 yards in a game is difficult, but not impossible if you become amazing at the game. Defense has been toned down so that pass rushing has been improved, but coverage, like in most football games, needs much work.

The Cribs feature returns and has been changed to incorporate the new VIP mode. Once you complete enough goals, you get to compete against Celebrity VIP’s. The celebrities have stacked teams and they will be tough to beat for the less advanced player. If you want to try and take them down at the start, lower your difficulty. The Cribs mode has been expanded, now offering more things to load up your crib. Inside, you have a trophy room, game room, etc. You can collect bobble heads, show off the trophies you earned playing, or kick back and play mini-games in your game room. Whatever floats your boat, do it.

Learn the ins and outs of maximum tackling. This feature can help you and hurt you. While this can make you go in for a hard tackle or a mere wrap up, your opponent has a chance to break the tackle and move onward in play downfield. This is a great feature to add to the running game especially, but works for all aspects. Maximum passing allows you to change the routes of your receiver before you snap the ball, and scramble around until he gets open.

The VIP system in ESPN is the most intriguing feature the people from Visual Concepts have come up with; VIP’s are basically the game plans of the player. It tells you the play style of the person, as well as his favorite plays. You can go online and actually download someone else’s VIP and play against it. This will get you the lowdown on how they play so you can counteract their playing style and face them online. So basically, it is just like watching game film. You see what they are going to do and use your playbook to counteract this. Creating your own playbook with multiple plays is a good way to throw a person off. Using a team’s playbook is all well and good, but it is easy to play against. Create your own, and you can have something tucked away for a rainy day hiding there.

First Person Football (FPF) looks very good. It gives you the ground scene of the action and is fun to play. You may actually play better in this mode than in 3rd person. It is really easy to do, just hard to cover a man if you control a cornerback or trying to get a view of who is around you on a punt return. Those are the only shortfalls of this mode.

Playing online with ESPN is much more forgiving than that of Madden. In Madden, if a person quits on you, they get a loss, but you get a tie. It seems very unfair to you since you could have crushed the other guy. ESPN is not that way at all. If a person quits on you, a screen pops up deciding whether or not you will allow him to leave. If you choose yes, the game is just nullified. If you choose to say you don’t want the person to quit, they can still leave, but you pick up the win. Also, there is a pause timer instead of a counter. What does this mean for you? Well, for the whole game, you only get 5 minutes of time to have the game paused. Once you exceed this limit, the person you are playing can quit and take the win. Of course this is unfair, but so is keeping the other person waiting for you.

There is a lack of depth offline though. There is a franchise mode, but it doesn’t span nearly as long as that of Madden. However, there is a mode in which you can prepare for the upcoming game. You can hold press conferences, watch game film, weight train, go on diets, etc. This will add/subtract rating from your players too. If you need an added boost for your QB, make him work out harder. The trading block is also a useful tool for in season play. You can put someone up and request a position you need filled and others will try and give you what you want. Also, at the end of a week, you can watch highlights as well as get news on trades and injuries. Your crib can be easily filled up in a few hours as well. Create-a-Team is always a good feature, but you can’t build and name your own stadium. Madden allows you to do this and it is a very fun thing to do in some cases. The 25th anniversary mode is a nice feature that allows you to relive moments in NFL history the past 25 years of ESPN. Seems like it doesn’t need to be there, but adds to the depth some. All and all, ESPN is worth the money for its budget price of $20. Those with online play can squeeze out much joy from this title. It will own your soul.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 9
Written by Shawn Review Guide

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